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"Where are you from?"

I have been working here at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 for almost two years now. Time flies! As I offer public programs across Canada, one part of my job that I really enjoy is learning firsthand just how many people have a personal connection to Pier 21, and how people express their family connections with pride:

"Oh, my uncle came through there!"
“You work at Pier 21? My grandmother was a war bride.”
“When we landed at Pier 21…”

I often hear these family stories and think that it’s great that folks like to share their experiences with the Museum, and with me.

My family likes to tell stories as well (often accompanied by raucous laughter), however these stories aren’t often linked with specifics about my ancestors or where they originated.

When I lived in Toronto or Montreal and someone asked “Where are you from?” I was proud to answer “I’m from Nova Scotia.” Now that I’ve moved back to Halifax, I’m likely to answer “I’m from here.” I have always had a general sense that my ancestors immigrated from Ireland and Scotland or England but through my work in the field of immigration, I have become more interested in the specifics. So the other day I dropped by the Scotiabank Family History Centre here at the Museum to see if I could find out a bit more. I walked in empty-handed, carrying bits and pieces of my family history in my memory, along with a whole lot of “maybes.” I found it a little daunting to begin to explore my family history but my colleague, Cara MacDonald, made it easy and even fun. We worked together to unravel pieces of my relatives’ past and began looking at immigration records and obituaries to piece things together. I was very glad to have Cara’s support and expertise in reading the documents. How many Frederick Ritchie’s can one family have!? I left that day with the intention to reach out to family members with the following questions:

When and where was Grampy Ritchie born?
Where did Frederick Ritchie marry Pauline Bleskan?

As I contacted family members across Canada, I was able to find out more information about my grandfather’s heritage. His mother, Paulina Bleskan (later known as Pauline) immigrated to Superior, Wisconsin at 11 years old to live with her brother after she was orphaned. She arrived at Ellis Island from Dluha in what is now Slovakia in 1904. Fast forward several years and Pauline travelled from Wisconsin to Edmonton for the wedding of a cousin. There she met Frederick Ritchie, who she eventually married, and settled down in Edmonton. Frederick was actually born in Calgary in 1892, several years after his parents had emigrated from Ireland. Who knew I had prairie roots!

A couple sit for a photo.

My great-grandparents, Frederick and Pauline Ritchie
Chicago, Illinois
Date unknown

I identify so strongly as Canadian that I find it fascinating to reflect on these cultural and family ties to the United States, Ireland and Slovakia. And that’s just the beginning: I have yet to research the Haydens, the Lawrences, the Fagans and the Sullivans! Cara, I might be due for another visit to the Scotiabank Family History Centre. What’s your Tuesday like?

(To learn more about your family history, send our Scotiabank Family History Centre team your research request online: )